Harvard and Dana-Farber researchers launched a website called Cancer FactFinder, which aims to provide verified information on the causes of cancer, on this year’s World Health Day, April 7.
The project – led by Professor Timothy R. Rebbeck of the Harvard School of Public Health – began as a joint effort between his school’s Zhu Family Center for Global Cancer Prevention and the Dana-Farber/ Harvard Cancer Center.
Cancer FactFinder synthesizes “the best evidence-based scientific information available from studies in humans” to address misconceptions about cancer, according to the site’s homepage.
Rebbeck, who is the director of the Zhu Family Center, said in an interview that the site’s goal is “to empower people to start making better choices.”
By accessing the site, a visitor can find out about possible risk factors for cancer by using the search function. Potential causes fall into six main categories: consumer products, diet and nutrition, lifestyle, medical exposures and procedures, occupational and environmental exposures, and other exposures.
Colour-coded symbols indicate whether there is enough evidence to support each cause, with a green circle indicating ‘most likely or definitely true’, a red circle for ‘false/misinformation’ and a gray circle for ‘we are not still safe”. ”
For each topic, the site also presents common claims, relevant scientific findings and risk reduction methods.
Mingyang Song, a professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health who worked on the project, called the process of labeling risk factors “evolutionary.”
“When we pass judgment, we try to be very, very careful,” Song said. “Science is a field in motion.”
Lorelai A. Mucci, a professor of epidemiology in the School of Public Health and a collaborator on the project, said Cancer FactFinder aims to combat the “fatigue” surrounding conflicting cancer information.
“Things like this, the Cancer FactFinder, are important because people can often get tired of hearing about things that are bad for them – to the point where they’re like, ‘I don’t believe anything, and I’m just going do whatever you want,” Mucci said.
Rebbeck said local health advocates are an integral part of the Cancer FactFinder team.
“Often we in academia or in the hospital medical care system think we know a lot of things that [is] pass,” Rebbeck said. “But we don’t always know, first of all, what people need to hear and how they need to hear it – what kinds of messages are helpful and what aren’t.”
“Therefore, we needed to include a broad audience in the design and information capture,” Rebbeck added.
Lydia Conley, administrative director of the Zhu Family Center, said the team will share Cancer FactFinder with government organizations and health care centers as an information resource.
Rebbeck said he hopes to pursue additional public programming to help Cancer FactFinder reach a wider audience.
“If you can find a place that has accurate and credible information, then that’s a place to start. This is by no means the end point,” Rebbeck said. “The second point is how to get people to listen – and that’s a much more important activity.”